Robert Holman’s writing is a remarkable existential exploration of loss and loneliness.
Jonah is a father of a six-week-old-daughter, the outcome of a relationship with a beautiful but lost French lady who has left him to work in another country. The 26-years-old youngster is brute and epileptic; he lives off of street magic tricks, while pushing around his baby girl in a shopping trolley. Otto is a 62-years-old clergyman who is openly atheistic in his friendship with the other character. He cannot understand how people live in a world where no God, nor Devil exists.
The play is set on the east coast of Sussex. It’s a full moon. It begins with Otto whispering to a wall, feeling the warmth of the layered bricks. Jonah loudly emerges from the dark. The characters are uncomfortable. Jonah is wandering between mugging and befriending the old man. Nothing seems to happen in this play, but slowly everything changes. The odd meeting between the lost strangers turns into a 24-hours of a truthful conversation about love and loneliness, desires and lust, loss and parenthood, which has a mesmerising effect on them. Jonah and Otto both admit to be tiptoeing through life, failing to follow their dreams. The two men are haunted by the memories of their past, both incredibly lonely, both dramatic and at times slightly suicidal. Jonah and Otto see each other more clearly through the eyes of the other and this is what bonds them; this is what creates a surprising and at times sadistic friendship.
Robert Holman’s work was first performed in 2008 at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Philosophical but very simple, it is just a play where two pilgrims talk to each other. Sometimes rough, others delicate, Holman’s dialogue is well structured and fast paced. Nevertheless, the play is not for everyone. Artistic and rarely intimate, ‘Jonah and Otto’ has an overwhelming emotional range.
Without any choreographed movements or awkward soundtrack, the director Tim Stark has succeeded to focus the public’s attention to the two star quality performances. Alex Waldmann is painfully believable as Jonah. He truly balances between rage and humour, vulnerability and loneliness. The other character Otto is played by Peter Egan who at first, is shy and quite, does not draw much attention. Nonetheless, later on Egan gracefully wanders between the roles of a victim, father, clergyman and a friend.
The play is sometimes funny and witty, sometimes awkward but always inevitably engaging. “Jonah and Otto” is running till the 23rd of November at Park Theatre.